May is Celiac Disease Awareness Month. This post is also coming to you during Food Allergy Awareness Week. This year, I thought we should have a real, honest, heart to heart about gluten-free eating and food “allergies”.
Both Celiac Disease and food allergies are life-threatening conditions that force a person to change their diet. As well as be vigilant about everything that they eat. With the proliferation of health experts claiming a gluten-free diet will change your life, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Like the idea that you should claim to have an allergy when eating out to ensure you get your food free from gluten
As a sufferer of a wheat allergy, I want to share with you the realities of the diet. Specifically, who needs to eat it and what the worst thing you could say at the restaurant is.
Who must eat Gluten Free?
Some people absolutely must avoid gluten. The most common reason for following a gluten-free diet is a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. According to celiac.org “Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine.” When someone with this disease eats gluten, their body attacks the small intestine as an immune response. Damage from Celiac can leave sufferers at greater risk for certain types of cancer. A risk that increases when gluten is consumed. Even a tiny crumb of bread can leave a Celiac sick for days.
In the medical community, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is the newest diagnostic possibility. It is assumed that this affects approximately 1% of the population, a similar percentage of Celiac disease. There are no definitive tests, but those with this condition see improvements when they remove gluten from their diets. Many also suffer from other autoimmune conditions. Gluten intolerance is the old term for this condition. It is used by many who stopped eating gluten, feel better but have no diagnosis. Not much is known about how gluten affects these people long term.
Wheat allergies are just like peanut allergies – a reaction is swift and can be severe. This allergy only affects about 1 in 10,000 adults and is more common in children. The reactions are similar to those who have peanut and shellfish allergies. Sufferers must carry epinephrine and must be highly vigilant about what they eat.
Risks of a gluten-free diet
You wouldn’t stop eating peanuts just because some other people are allergic to them. Quitting gluten because it is dangerous for certain people doesn’t make much sense. Plus, eating a gluten-free diet can leave you vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Many breads and cereals are fortified with B vitamins (a group of vitamins that many Americans don’t get enough of) and while gluten-free versions of those foods exist, most are not fortified.
Gluten-free diets can also lack dietary fiber, which your digestive system needs to run smoothly. The standard American diet is deficient in dietary fiber, so when you take away whole wheat people are even more at risk. You can find dietary fiber in other gluten-free grains as well as fruits, vegetables, and beans, but it takes effort.
There is even scientific evidence that a month on a gluten-free diet may adversely affect the gut flora and immune function. This potentially sets up patients on a gluten-free diet for an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in their intestines. The compounds that are eliminated in that diet are what feeds the good bacteria in our guts.
Another study suggests that gluten may boost immune function. Subjects
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.